Five Golden Dragons (1967)

5goldendragonsFor one of his myriad adaptations of Edgar Wallace works, brand-name producer Harry Alan Towers takes us to Hong Kong to meet Five Golden Dragons.

Our inadvertent tour guide is Bob Cummings (Beach Party) as American bachelor Bob Mitchell, whose sole purpose for hanging at the Hilton seems to be to charm the bikinis off the lovely women he meets. Through a roundabout way — one that the iconic Hitchcockian characters played by Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart knew all too well (and, in the latter case, too much) — Bob finds himself inexplicably implicated in the death of a man, soon followed by several more for heightened intrigue. He’s innocent, of course, but the local police inspector assigned to investigate (Roy Chiao, Bloodsport) isn’t easy to convince.

Who’s to blame? The members of the titular international syndicate that controls the illicit gold market. This society of “the most evil men the world has ever known” is so secretive, even its quintet of members don’t know one another. When they do meet, they lumber around in ill-fitting, parade-ready dragon heads that look utterly ridiculous instead of threatening.

5goldendragons1The film’s marketing raised much ballyhoo over who was underneath those disguises, each “a great international star”: Christopher Lee (1959’s The Hound of the Baskervilles), Brian Donlevy (The Curse of the Fly), Dan Duryea (The Burglar) and George Raft (that year’s Casino Royale). Unhidden is the film’s most terrifying villain: Klaus Kinski (Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu) as Gert, chain-smoking his way through daily duties of assassination and intimidation.

A bumbling everyman, the affable Cummings was a big TV sitcom star at the time, and plays his lead role less like an action hero with global smarts and more like Bob Hope with a bubble gum habit. He cracks wise at every opportunity, even though said cracks elicit no laughs and the movie by Towers’ four-time collaborator Jeremy Summers (The Vengeance of Fu Manchu) is assuredly not a comedy, despite evidence to the contrary in one life-or-death chase sequence scored with slide whistles and bass drums.

I have no clue if Wallace’s source material was set in Hong Kong, but I do know Towers sure got his money’s worth shooting there, as the picture doubles as a big, bright travelogue that captures the flavor of the Chinese city’s exotic locales, indoors and out. Illuminating the foreground are three criminally beautiful women in Margaret Lee (Jess Franco’s Venus in Furs) and, playing sisters, the drop-dead gorgeous Maria Perschy (1972’s Murders in the Rue Morgue) and Towers’ wife, Maria Rohm (1974’s Ten Little Indians). Each had me mentally booking a one-way ticket. —Rod Lott

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